REVIEW

Royal MTC season ends with romantic comedy that proves there is life, and laughter, after 60

While it’s not always entirely graceful, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's Morning After Grace offers up some sweet laughs — and the hope that for better and worse, there is life after 60.

Stage vets get to show off their comic chops in uneven but entertaining Morning After Grace

Alvin Sanders, Fiona Reid and C. David Johnson perform in the Royal MTC's Morning After Grace. The romantic comedy isn't always entirely graceful but it offers up some sweet laughs — and the hope that for better and worse, there is life after 60. (Dylan Hewlett/Royal MTC)

You could say that Morning After Grace — a 2016 play from American writer Carey Crim that closes the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's season — is about a woman and a man "of a certain age."

It's a term, though, for which Abigail (played here by stage and screen star Fiona Reid, last seen in Winnipeg doing a royal turn in The Audience) expresses her distinct disdain. The characters in Morning After Grace may be of a certain age — but that doesn't mean they have to like it, or necessarily behave all that gracefully.

All of that plays for some good laughs in Crim's somewhat uneven but still very entertaining play.

It begins with Abigail literally popping up from under the covers on a couch where she's apparently spent a fairly wild night with Angus (C. David Johnson, another stage and TV veteran).

There are laughs from the get-go in director Krista Jackson's brisk 95-minute production as a somewhat shocked and definitely hungover Abigail sneaks a peek under the covers at the very naked near-stranger snoring beside her.

Morning After Grace offers a rare and refreshing story about older characters struggling with relationships and insecurity — things we're used to seeing younger characters grapple with on stage. (Dylan Hewlett/Royal MTC)

Crim's script offers up some big belly laughs and good bits of comic dialogue out of the gate, too.

"I don't even know his last name," Abigail tells a friend she calls after waking up. "I am such a slut. Isn't it great?!"

The one-night stand Abigail is so enthused about, we soon learn, began at an unlikely location — a funeral.

"At our age, funerals are better than singles bars," Angus deadpans — another good line, and one Crim says she actually overheard at a restaurant, providing the spark for this play.

They're also an unlikely couple. He's crass, blunt and just turned 70, so has reached the age where he's better described as "grumpy" than simply as an ass. She's a gentle and over-generous caregiver who believes in getting in touch with your feelings, never swears and insists cayenne pepper with water is a much better hangover cure than Motrin.

Thrown into the mix is Angus's neighbour Ollie, a genial former baseball player who has connections to both Angus and Abigail, but also some of his own baggage to deal with (played here by Alvin Sanders, in an affable if sometimes stilted performance).

Abigail and Angus's attempt to navigate the morning after — and their ongoing relationship, if there is to be one — is a good romantic comedy setup, and one that Morning After Grace largely delivers on.

Carey Crim's play is successful on the comedic front, but it stumbles a bit when it tries to go beyond comedy. (Dylan Hewlett/Royal MTC)

It's also rare, and refreshing, to see a play about older characters that depicts them struggling with relationships and insecurity — things we're used to seeing younger characters grapple with on stage.

Where Morning After Grace stumbles, though, is when it tries to go beyond comedy. Crim makes a valiant effort to give the script some depth and poignancy, but some of the moments that are meant to play with emotional heft feel more sweetly sentimental than sincere or profound.

The play's ending admirably avoids the cheap and easy way out, but nonetheless feels more like a sudden stop than a proper conclusion.

It's far more successful on the comedic front, thanks to Crim's script and a couple of great performances from the leads. Johnson is suitably curmudgeonly as Angus but still lets us see enough of the heart of gold we know is in there to make him sympathetic. He lands Angus's one-liners with a smooth balance of bite and wit.

Stage and screen veterans Fiona Reid and C. David Johnson deliver laughs with strong performances in Morning After Grace. (Dylan Hewlett/Royal MTC)

Reid steals the show, though, as Abigail. She's vulnerable without seeming helpless or neurotic, and grounded enough in her slight flakiness that we buy her as a real person.

And she gets to show off her impressive comic chops too — watching her giggle youthfully but genuinely during a scene where Abigail, Angus and Ollie take the edge off with some "medicinal" help is worth the price of admission alone. It's a lovely and nuanced performance.

While it's not always entirely graceful, Morning After Grace offers up some sweet laughs — and the hope that for better and worse, there is life after 60.

Morning After Grace runs at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's John Hirsch Mainstage until May 19.